Sunday, May 21, 2006

Tapovan

Week 1

Dreams....each one of us has a variety of dreams to pursue, ponder, cherish and transform them into a reality. One such longing in my mind has taken its due nurturing for quite some years to become a reality. And the reasons for such a longing to lodge are multiple - I like to trek or may be I just want to keep a few steps in the mighty Himalayas or was it the strong inspiration flowing from my bro? It could be anything and that does not matter now.
So, the planning for tapovan trek started with full gusto – we were a team of 6. After ransacking shops like Wildcraft, Eastern Store, Nike and Adidas we were all set for the D day of May 1st, 2006. First it was Bangalore airport – Thanks to V and her husband for not minding to drop me at the airport sharp 4AM- then it was Delhi airport, ISBT, oranges for lunch and finally Rishikesh! The eminent guide Shambu was all ready to receive and put us in a hotel. It was a ramble at Rishikesh that nite – Ganges banks, Chotiwala(a renowned hotel), ghanna juice, freshly baked biscuits and aloo tikkis. We had dinner and slept with the exciting visions of forth coming days. Next stop was at Uttarkashi, a beautiful place – the hotel we stayed was facing the mountains and a slight drizzle was accompanying us always. Another interesting thing about the hotel is that we need to enter through its terrace and go down the steps for the rooms. Then I realized that this funda holds good for most of the houses there due to its terrain – except that it was very strange! After relishing the home made food, we had a nice talk about our childhood days. It was such a lively discussion and I was amused to note the commonality that exists between us. This made us to turn the pages of our lives to 15 years back…and the “chaaya(s)” given by the lady added more flavor to the conversations. Then it was wandering at Uttarakashi – more ransacking for chocolates, dry fruits, trendy pouches and delicious samosas, which I missed. Following this was the dinner, “beer” time and sleep. Next day we were on the move to Gangotri – our onward journey always had the Ganges to our right side. Camping at Gangotri gave us the hint about our future stays in the tents. Apart from our team, we had another team of porters who would be carrying tents and food for our trek. Our last minute shopping included sweaters from Harshil, after the fresh pinch of cold and plastic papers for rains from Gangotri. We visited the temple there and sought blessings of “Ganga Mayya”. That night was colored by the candle light dinner, rising moon and stars, silhouette of mountains and of course melodious songs from each one of us.

“The” Trek

With our bags and sleeping bags, we geared up for the long trek that awaited us. The pace was slow and steady. The path that we were treading was narrow, sometimes had cliffs’ opening to ravines, Ganges below and the area around was enveloped by scarce vegetation. We were thrilled to see all this and also the mountains that were ahead of us. The fact that we would be there made our steps stronger. One smart thing that we did was to offload some of our stuff at Uttarkashi, which made our bags comparatively lighter. While walking, suddenly a group of people would zoom past us with a heavy load on their backs – they were none other than the porters going up and down. We were really dumbstruck with the speed they were traversing. We could only justify and convince ourselves by saying that – “ah! They do it daily and that’s y they r fast!” Another amazing thing is we met a German lady, who was 52 and had the objective of covering Tapovan within a day. Her charisma could only inspire us more. We reached Chirbasa, 9km from Gangotri and camped there that night. What came next was tea(s), biscuit(s) and lunch. Shambu’s specialty was hot garlic soup and veg noodles. We devoured them crazily throughout our trek. Campfire saved us a bit from the dashing cold and we did try to play some games with difficulty. Armed with sleeping bags against the cold we could sleep to some extent in the tents. After a quick toast for the breakfast in the morning, we headed towards Gomukh - 18km from Gangotri. We saw a place called Bhojbasa at 14km from Gangotri. Some people do camp at Bhojbasa as well. On the way, we did stop for good views, snaps, to munch and also had breaks near streams. One of us did have a slight breathing problem- his bag was taken by others and we did take rests frequently. But I must say that we were doing pretty well. We reached Gomukh around afternoon and the guide was checking out a camping area devoid of landslides. Landslides are another usual phenomena which we should be cautious of and we could always hear them happening in the mountains around us. After a quick rest, we strolled to reach near the Gomukh glacier. The glacier was looking like a cave - the rocky ice was falling as it keeps melting due to the sun and flows as the serene Ganges! It was such a breath taking site and matched the team’s usual phrase of “snow melting and water trickling”! We were almost sitting inside the Gomukh glacier which is a very risky thing to do. Few of us crossed the river and took snaps. The scene literally mesmerized us. It was soon time for us to leave to the camp site.

While coming back, an interesting thing happened - it was raining snow which we experienced for the first time and it was nice to see white spherical objects falling around us. This time our camp was in a vast plain area surrounded by the mountains – it was very windy, extremely cold with the sound of landslides. Infact we started having food inside the tents and food was the only thing that alleviated the existing environmental factors. We had three layers of clothing on us and a sleeping bag that night to fight the cold. Next morning we were relieved to start for Tapovan – this time the trek was on the rocks and glacier. There was no defined path, we were just following the guide. Here, we need to watch our steps to avoid falling into a glacier as the rocks sometimes opens up and you go deep down the chasm. Jumping and moving on rocks is fun as long as you don fall. One thing that was very challenging here were the steep climbs. The path of 600m took almost 2 hours for us to trek. The Ganges in between was the only motivating element – we took breaks near the stream to freshen ourselves. It was a great relief to reach Tapovan at last. Our hard work got its reward very soon – we were welcomed by a slope of a mountain covered with snow. Forgetting our lunch and tiredness - we started skating, playing and ‘snow hitting’ each other. It was fun. Then we retired to our camps – had our packed lunches of Paranthas & Pickle. Inspite of the food being very delicious we were bored by its monotony – which led to visualizations of Pongal, Idlis, Samosas and Chutney. In the evening we went to the lake of Akash Ganga – place where the water, mountains and clouds merge! The water was pure blue in color and very still reflecting the mountains around. It was such a striking sight. It seems there is an agreement with the people(mostly Babas) to use this water only for drinking purpose. While crossing the rocks there, I had a fall into the waters of Akash Ganga – that made me holy and the fall gave a physical mark on my left hand.I was very lucky to just get away with that. As I was recuperating from the fall, others moved around the lake – it was snow and snow everywhere. We did a few clicking sessions and then started towards the camp. The way back again had a “snow walk” – sometimes your foot would go 2 ft down the snow. The guide taught us good techniques to avoid this and walk easily on the snow. As soon as we reached the camp, they gave us hot soups which were equivalent to “Amirthams” at that point in time. That night was the peak as far as cold is concerned – it seems the temperature reached till -3. Morning, we could see snow on top and sides of our tents. Thank god! We survived it.
Next day we started for Nandanvan – the guide gave us the hint that the routes were very risky as the snow has not yet melted still during that time of the year. We were weighing the options available to us and finally decided to go near Shivling, Chota Shivling peaks and Kailash dome. We could catch the glimpse of the beautiful valley of Nandanvan and Gangotri glaciers beneath us. Also we did snow “sitting & skating” and thoroughly enjoyed each moment. While coming back five of us lost our way and our guide was far ahead of us. We were in such a place that there were no souls around to enquire and what you could see is jus the mountains all around you. Since we had a veteran trekker(who had been to Tapovan 3 times already) we could come back safely. On our way back, we also visited the ashram of Shimla Baba.

After a quick lunch, we started trekking back – the plan was to go till Chirbasa. We made it after a long break at Gomukh. The stunning scene at Gomukh was that the place where we were sitting 2 days before was submerged by Ganges – the river was very wild and it was very muddy. Later we get to know that there was a huge break of the glacier due to rains and infact a lady became a victim of the ferocious Ganges. The trek back was very long and strenuous as we covered more distance than usual. As soon as we reached Chirbasa we had tea and sleep. Next day we went to Gangotri and boarded the sumo back to Uttarkashi, That evening in Uttarkashi we had a gala time relishing the food in the streets – Chickanjees, Masala chaats, Chaaya(s) and Samosas. The funny thing is that we would enter a hotel - eat, come out and enter the adjacent hotel immediately..such was our thirst for the variety in the food. Then it was sweets’ time – hot jelabis, Rasamalais, Gulab jamuns and Pedas. I have never eaten like that in my life, though it was very common to the other folks around. It did not stop here – we went to a juice shop and ordered for large glass of juice – which apparently turned out a flop cos the glass was in the size of a water bottle with a huge radius. We restricted ourselves to medium sized glass that would be 4 times the normal glass. I must say that we became a “Gluttons’ group” that day due to our eating spree.

Week 2

As we did not make it to Nandanvan, we planned for Badrinath to use the extra days. We used the same guide , who took care of the sumo, hotels and food all the time. Well, using the same guide din not come out as a good decision, but we all just lived with that. The drive to Badri was amazing – it was via Shrinagar(in Uttaranchal), Chamoli – a beautiful village and Rudraprayag -junction point to go to Kedar and Badri. The temple at Badri was small but very powerful. Hot springs were another specialty there. It seems Badri is opened only for 6 months to humans and the other 6 months the temple is closed and it’s believed that the Gods do the pooja during that time. In the evening we went to a nearby place called Mana, a tourist spot. It had lot of caves – like Ganesh cave, Veda Vyasa cave etc. This place also opens up lot of treks to Kalandi pass, Kedar and other routes. One interesting thing here is we had Herbal Tea in the “last” Indian tea shop – actually the place was very close to the Chinese border and hence such a name to the tea shop – “Bharat khi Aakhiri Chaai Dukhan”. We bought hand woven sweaters and caps from the inhabitants there. That night we stayed at Badri and next we were off to another scenic place called Auli. We booked for the ropeway ride at 1:00PM and to kill the time we went to a Shankaracharya temple. “Kill the time” affair turned out to be a memorable one as the place was peaceful, it had a Kalpa Vriksh, a small Shiv temple, a cave, where Adi Shankarachrya and Thotakacharya meditated and the Shankar Mutt. One thing to note here was the tight security given for the premises mainly to protect the tree. Couple of us bought few “Rudraksha” stuff from the temple. After this we headed for the ropeway ride – around 25 of us were accommodated in a cable car and it passed through the tropical terrains of Auli. During January, the place would be a terrific skiing spot – It was so inspiring that few of us planned to visit Auli next January. They left us on the top of the cliff for 40 minutes to chill out. We relished the veg pakodas and chaaya(s) there. Horse riding was another happening event there. The ride back also revealed the pastures, log huts, sheeps and green valleys beneath us.
After this we started our journey back to Rishikesh – the way we traveled constituted of steep turns, hilly terrains and Ganges to the left this time. We could also spot fresh landslides – at certain points they had installed the bull dozers stationary to clear off the roads as and when necessary. It was raining very heavily as we reached Rudraprayag that night. Another fact that was shared by our guide was that while traveling if any “Gujjar”(shepherd) comes in front of you then it’s a indication of rain. But Iam really not sure how to evade them. Next day we reached Rishikesh – few of us went for rafting and I opted to freak out at Rishikesh. The foreigners outnumber the Indians there at certain places – they use the bikes to move around. We did some shopping – scoured a book shop, whose collection was amazing. We sauntered around for most of the day, explored some beautiful spots nears Ganges, did boating and visited a few temples. We could spot the most hi-fi internet browsing centers that dotted the streets of Rishikesh. We visited a coffee shop facing the banks of Ganges that served the most exquisite cuisine suiting to the tastes of the foreigners as well. We marked a few spots as our favorites to visit them next time..infact we went to the extent of planning out a few future weekends at Rishikesh. As all good things come to an end, we started seeing the end of this trip as that night we were supposed to leave to Delhi and catch the flight to Bangalore.
The “Dabba” bus that we boarded from Rishikesh broke down in-between and we need to get into another bus to continue our journey. We were all dead tired, almost drifted off to sleep in the rick from ISBT to airport. Quickly refreshing at airport we boarded the flight back to Bangalore. The air, traffic at the city, imminent visions of work tried to engulf our wonderful memories and they failed miserably, cos this trek and its accompanying thoughts would always be evergreen in our minds, close to our hearts and would invite a broad smile to our faces!!

1 comment:

IndianWildlifeClub said...

We are publishing a six part series on Gangotri trek by a concerned trekker. You can read it at http://www.indianwildlifeclub.com